‘Wayde will be back’
“You have to be prepared for injuries and illness which sets you back and I’ve seen it with Thuso Mpuang for instance where it took us five years to get him from starting out in athletics to where I got him to a level winning national titles and qualifying for the Olympics.” Botha and Van Niekerk have experienced the peaks and troughs of international sport in which time she took the phenom from an injury-prone athlete with immense potential to one of the greatest sprinters in the world.
With the injuries that had dogged him in his early years finally in the past, the duo were on a worldwide crusade from 2014, conquering one track meeting after another.
But their good run of the last three years came to a screeching halt when Van Niekerk sustained medial and lateral tears of the meniscus, as well as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), in a Celebrity TAG match in October.
Van Niekerk went under the knife two weeks ago in the United States, and faces a long period of recovery and rehabilitation before he can make a return to the track.
Although the injury comes as a major blow to both mentor and protégé, Botha is the eternal optimist, believing her charge will be back stronger and faster.
“These setbacks cross your path and one learns how to deal with them but, I can’t deny it, they are extremely difficult to process,” she says.
“But it is important to put it behind you as soon as possible and strive to create something even more positive out of this negative situation. It took us five years to get Wayde to record the times he has been running over the last two seasons or so.”
Van Niekerk is currently in the United States as part of the first phase of his rehabilitation ahead of his return to South Africa for a short stint before travelling to Doha to Dr Louis Holtzhausen for the second part.
“Wayde and I have a strong bond where we have faith in a higher power, a God that has guided our lives over the last five years,” Botha says. “The operation was a success, Wayde is improving very well but my first name over the next few weeks and months will be ‘Patience’.”